Technology is great for many things, but the one thing I’ve never been able to replace with apps, programs, and spreadsheets is simple note-taking. Putting things down so they don’t get forgotten or neglected is invaluable. For example, I currently have over 20,000 unread email messages. Granted most of those are spam and newsletters, but finding something I only vaguely remember in that mass of information is frustrating. Notes are where it’s at.
Before my high school Human Physiology class I thought notes were simply the act of trying to write everything onto paper and not forget anything. Mr. Dahle took his first two full classes to teach the art of effective notes and that lesson alone was worth more than everything else I learned at Blackfoot High School combined. Those techniques got me through college, grad school, a career in engineering and now a career in home services. If that man were still alive I’d call him today and thank him for being the best teacher I ever had.
Three Rules of Notes:
- Only the
During a conversation, lecture, conference, or meeting only jot down the topic at hand. Do not try to write down everything. If you’re attending a panel discussion on marketing and they are talking about strategies for different methods, your sheet might only have the topics, Direct Mail, Google Search, Online Ads, Signs, Billboards, etc. Don’t let your note-taking interfere with your listening.
- Fill in the
Later, but not so long that the information isn’t fresh, sit down with your notes and fill in details. Under each heading write a sentence or two with what you remember. You will be surprised that your memory is going to include most of the important points and you’ll gloss over the diversions and tangents that many people go down while trying to explain themselves.
- Rewrite Your
This is a redundancy that serves a really important purpose. Give yourself some more time and then sit down with your notes and rewrite them in a better form. You can handwrite it or type it out, whichever you prefer. In this way you’re going to remember more from your session and you’re going to put it in a more organized manner that makes sense to you. Remember, these are your notes and they need to be in a form that you can understand.
The reason I haven’t found technology to substitute for this old school method of keeping notes is that the act of writing things down, by hand, with your eyes on your words and your brain engaged in the process is the best way possible to absorb, understand, and remember. Study after study has linked the importance of writing things down for the human brain to retain information.
Simple Note Formats
●The Thirds Method
Take your paper and draw a line right down the page, with 2/3rds of the space on the left and 1/3rd on the right. I use graph paper or engineering tablets, but this works with any standard sheet of paper.
Now on the left hand side make your in-process notes, leaving room for details later under each point or headline. Keep that going the whole time. If you start a new subject or a different conversation, draw a horizontal line so you know where one thing ended and a new session starts. Or you can use a fresh sheet, whichever way you prefer.
I told you earlier that you are going to go back and add details and that’s true. Put in there what you remember, what is important.
What about that right-hand column? Well, that’s where you are going to add your thoughts. Things you think might be important. Put in questions that you want to ask later. Or add in something you learned from a different source. Maybe you learned about Direct Mail in that panel discussion and later you did some internet searching and found out that you can specify delivery right down to postal carrier routes. If that wasn’t covered before, add it in yourself on the right-hand side. Go above and beyond to learn more than just what was taught in the course.
I started using index cards (3x5 or 4x6 cards on heavy stock paper) when I was studying for exams. I would put questions on one side, answers on the other, and then I would pace and pace while testing myself with a stack of cards. It must have worked. I ended up with a 4.0 GPA through college and grad school.
But I didn’t stop using index cards once I left school. When I was designing equipment for a big project, I’d put down details and requirements on those cards and tape them to the wall. Then as I worked, I’d be able to move those cards around and they’d get into order before I finalized the documents and then the programming.
In my window cleaning business, I’d make a card for each customer and keep notes on jobs on them while at the client’s house. Later I’d put that info into our database or the CRM. To this day that method has helped me with a memory that amazes both my customers and my staff. I can remember details about houses I haven’t been to in ten years. I can remember rooms, pets, children, and even artwork - all things I have jotted down on those strange little cards.
The biggest advantage to the cards over just a notepad is that they are more portable and more organizable. I carry a stack of cards held together with a binder clip in my back pocket. They are always at hand. At night I can just put them in a card file box once I have reviewed each card. In that box they are sorted and organized. I still find myself looking in those boxes a couple times a week when questions come up.
●The Daily Diary
Have you ever tried to call someone back, knowing that they called you sometime yesterday morning and when you go through your phone calls, you just don’t know which number is theirs? Have you ever thought that you had followed up with a customer or vendor and then later found out that you meant to, but you never actually did it? I have on both counts.
Now I keep a diary. When I make or receive a call I just jot down the time and a brief, one line, detail of who and what it was about. If I need to look back to see if I talked to the HVAC Contractor about their electrical hookup, I can look at my diary. If I need to call them to follow up and I didn’t save the number, I can just match my calls in my phone to the time in the diary. As a bonus, I have their name.
At the end of the day I transfer things that didn’t get finished onto the next day’s to-do list. No more dropped balls.
I want you to take these ideas as just what
they are: Ideas. Rework them to suit you and what you need from your notes.
Tailor them to your own ability to remember. Maybe you already have a different
method that works for you and it’s better than what I use. Let me know.
Good luck out there.
I’m here if you have questions.